Just as “suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3) and “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3), so also affliction in this life, endured in faith, produces this incomparable, immeasurable weight of coming glory. Which means that in those moments when we are suffering — and so far as we can tell, as in those final few minutes of dying, our pain and suffering is not being “used for good,” it seems, in this life — we do have something good to preach to our souls. And not something marginally good. But magnificent goodness.
No pain, no gain. It’s a cheap, popular slogan that points to a precious biblical reality — albeit with reductionism — that we regularly see at work in our world.
The pain of childbirth gives way to the joy of new life. The disappointments of defeat catalyze athletes to train with even more resolve. The humiliation of failure leads to fresh awareness of personal flaws, sober self-evaluation, and the emergence of better, more mature, more intentional patterns of life. The most cherished realities in our lives are forged in the fires of pain and suffering. We see the evidence in our world, and know the story in our own lives.
And the Scriptures affirm this profound truth for God’s people. Through suffering, God exposes our sin and calls us to soul-saving repentance (Romans 8:18–23; Luke 13:1–5). Through affliction, he drives us from the dangers of trust in self to the safety of trust in him (2 Corinthians 1:8–9). Through pain, he works in us hope and holiness and endurance (Hebrews 12:3–11; Romans 5:3–4; James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–8).
He makes us the hands of his comfort in the lives of others (2 Corinthians 1:3–4), emboldens fellow believers (Philippians 1:12–14), and embodies the gospel to unbelievers (Colossians 1:24; Acts 5:40–41). He uses distress and persecution to reposition his troops (Acts 8:1; 11:19–21), and he makes our sufferings into his instruments to wean us from the cheap thrills of the world, keep us from conceit, and woo us to the surpassing value and preciousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9–10; Philippians 1:19–23).
But what about the sufferings that produce no good on earth in the life of the sufferer?
How Does Earthly Pain Serve Eternal Gain?
Think especially of the horrors of dying. It’s not too uncommon for those final minutes to be terrible. And that’s an understatement. And when the moments (or months) of dying are finally over, what good might it have served this world? You’re dead. No strengthened faith. No increased sanctification. Perhaps no sterling testimony to friends and family in those final excruciating minutes. Will such suffering — for some, as bad as it ever gets in this life — genuinely serve some good purpose, or simply prove to be in vain?
Two precious biblical promises — one from Jesus, the other from Paul — affirm that the good God does in suffering is not limited to good in this life.